This morning I read this article in the Washington Post and wanted to put down a few brief thoughts on the question of American intervention in Syria. First, I feel a great deal of sympathy for the Syrian people and the stories we've been hearing from there for the past year have been beyond tragic. While working for Al Jazeera on The Stream I had the opportunity to see unedited footage sent to us by Syrian activists - footage often so graphic that we were unable to air it. I was particularly angered and disturbed by the story and images of 13-year old Hamza al-Khatib, who was detained, tortured and murdered by Syrian forces last summer - an event that only served to harden the resolve of Syrian revolutionaries to overthrow the increasingly tyrannical regime of Bashar al-Assad.
I want to see Assad toppled and a new government elected in Syria. According to the Post article, however, that government may not necssarily be friendly to the United States, because of bad feelings engendered by the Free Syrian Army not receiving the kind of support from the West that rebels in Libya did, despite repeated calls for foreign intervention. The article transmits what is almost a threat - a sense of "we will do this on our own and we will remember who stood by us and who simply stood by."
I get it. I can't really argue with the rebels on that point, and if I were one of them I would probably feel the same way. But the United States should not get involved in the Syrian revolution despite our natural desire to support the efforts of the people there to be free. First, that natural desire is highly overstated. We rarely take on military interventions for humanitarian reasons, despite what the soft-spoken propagandists in our news media would portray. We knew the Holocaust was going on in WWII and we did nothing, until the Japanese forced our hand at Pearl Harbor. Prior to that, we wouldn't even take the simple humanitarian step of allowing Jewish refugees to land on our shores, instead sending them back to Europe in droves to face almost certain death. We now make up for this by professing our undying support of Israel, but history knows the facts nonetheless.
The US did not intervene during the Rwandan genocide, we have done little more than issue boneless platitudes about the atrocities committed by the Sudanese government under President Bashir in Darfur, and we've pretended for a decade that the Eastern Congo doesn't exist. We did not go into Iraq to "establish Democracy" by deposing the Sunni regime in the largest Shi'a nation in the Arab World, whose Shi'a neighbor Iran is effectively a permanent sworn enemy - such a democratic establishment could lead to the kind of "unholy alliance" between Iraq & Iran that the US has feared since we first funded Saddam Hussein to attack his neighbors back in the 1980s.
And we didn't support the NATO "no fly zone" over Libya because of our deep and heartfelt support of the poor Libyan people, oppressed by a brutal dictator who had only started oppressing them a mere 4 decades earlier.
Don't believe the humanitarian hype. I love my country for a number of reasons, but our support for human rights in conflict zones is not one of them. Any intervention in Syria would not be based on humanitarian reasons, it would be based on national interest, and what national interest could possibly be served? Syria is a longstanding major player in one of the most intractable conflicts in the world and any geo-political occurence that happens there is necessarily defined by the volatility of the entire neighborhood. Lots of people argue we should arm the rebels. But we armed the mujahideen in Afghanistan before they changed their names to Taliban and Al-Qaeda. Twenty plus years down the road how's that panning out for us?
Some argue that the least we could do is support a no-fly-zone. But no-fly-zone enforcement will require a significant military commitment in the most volatile region on the planet. And if we get caught in a "hot war" in Syria, you can assume it will quickly become a proxy war with Iran, with a potential to destabilize neighboring Lebanon and spark the ever-present tensions between Hezbollah and Israel. The Saudis already appear to be getting on a "war-footing" and if the entire region ratchets up military preparation, you can best believe the Iranians will do their darndest to build and stockpile as many nukes as possible.
Let's not even get started on the dangers of Turkey getting involved and the Kurds across the region being even further inflamed towards any prospect of pan-Kurdish retaliation/defense.
I don't want to sound alarmist, but I really think the situation in Syria has a greater potential to spark WWIII than anything else happening in the world today. It is a travesty what is going down there, but we are well practiced in watching bad stuff go down in other people's countries. In this case discretion may well be the better part of valor.
Syria wasn't an ally before the revolution, it won't be an ally after. The US should keep it's powder dry, it's troops at home and it's guns out of Syrian hands. When the dust settles, we should do our very best to invest real money in helping the Syrian people rebuild their country. That offer of support should be extended and maintained...whether the new Syria is willing to accept it or not.